My mother taught me about the “Two Legger.” She would say, “Son, man has two legs. So, I call him the two-legger. One man may have pigmentation in his skin and the other one doesn’t. Just remember, he is the same sinful two legged man.” This concept has always stayed with me. As early as 1775 the Negro Dilemma surfaced as a primary thought in the evolution of America. George Washington declared the negro unfit to fight in the Continental Army leaving a wide open opportunity for the British. Washington stated , “Neither negroes, boys unable to bear arms, nor old men” could enlist in the army. (November 12, 1775). Three days later at the “Battle of Kemp’s Landing” Negroes secured a victory for the British along the Virginia Coast line. Lord Dunmore (Royal Governor of the British Colony of Virginia) publicly read his proclamation offering freedom to the enslaved Negros of White men who were fighting against the Royal Crown (Proclamation issued November 7, 1775 prior to the public reading on the 12th). It is said that upwards of 20,000 negroes joined ranks with the British. (Proclamation issued November 7, 1775 prior to public reading). These men were known as “Black Loyalist” and wore the badge of honor “Liberty to Slaves” on their uniforms. One of note was Harry Washington, enslaved worker of General George Washington himself. Harry, was one of the first Negroes to return to his home land “Sierra Leone” after the first revolutionary war. The seeds of recolonization had been established. Perhaps, if ever freed, the Negro could find his home where his journey first started. (How Enslaved Men Who Fought for the British Were Promised Freedom. May 24, 2016 by Christopher Klein History.com)
The idea resurfaced during the war of 1812 when approximately 4,000 slaves were freed by the British and displayed the red coat in battle. “When British ships entered the Chesapeake Bay in March 1813, hundreds of slaves and their families canoed their way to the enemy fleet and claimed their freedom. In all, more than 4,000 formerly enslaved Blacks obtained freedom in the largest emancipation outside of the Civil War.” I can’t imagine the fear that the First Lady, Dolly Madison” had she abandoned the White House in Washington. It is a well known fact that Blacks help to build the Whitehouse as Slaves. It is not so well known of a fact that Blacks as British troops burned the Whitehouse down during the war of 1812. I live these twists and turns in history. The Black man has always weighed his options carefully and aligned himself wisely with the means of Grace afforded him for survival. An all Black fighting squad, The Colonial Marines, helped to lay fire to the Whitehouse and fought during the Battle of Baltimore where Francis Scott Key pinned that famous song, “The Star Spangle Banner.” Though Key saw the stars and stripes still there, defended and pursued by Blacks on both sides, I wonder if First Lady Dolly Madison saw the Black men in Red Coats as she hurried away from the White House? Can you imagine? It would have been terrifying all the same to see White troops. But to see Black troops in red coats would have served double jeopardy to her God fearing soul to say the least. And yet, it is said that her Black servant, Paul Jennings, helped to secure General Washington’s portrait.
And The Negroes Are With Them!
Oh my! The British are coming. Since 1775 when Paul Revere made his famous ride and supposedly shouted, “The British are coming!” Who knew that there was another salient cry, “And the Negroes are with them!” Oh my my! What matter of preciseness these facts were left out of my history lessons on the great shout of Paul Revere. I find this as strikingly interesting as I do hilarious in writing this. Yet, I want the reader to understand the dreadful fear the Negro posed to the White man. This fear wasn’t reserved for the Southern White man as the political dynamics of today would have you to believe. No! This was a global fear during this time.
Dreadful Fear of the Negro
During the war of 1812, “The British commander-in-chief said they were ‘infinitely more dreaded by the Americans than the British troops.” (
If you do not appreciate the level of fear the White man had of the Negro and the degree of propaganda used during the two revolutionary wars to promote that fear, you will perhaps miss the connection between that pursuing dialogue leading up to the Civil War, “What do we do with the Negro?” This dialogue created lasting efforts to pursue means to subdue the impact of the negro upon the great American experience. Thus, I have given you the background. Not only would the Black man fight, he would take up arms against Whites and take arms to stand with Whites. He had also shown a willingness to go back to Africa and to stay in America.
Yet, there is one more story worth telling to ensure you that this fear is not of my own imagination. In 1791, “The Haitian Revolution ” sent shock waves through the psyche of White Americans. The French colony of Saint Domingue failed to free and enslaved Blacks. Haiti emerged as the First Black Republic in 1801.
The first successful voyage to Africa was lead by a self-financed mixed race Quaker, Paul Cuffe, in 1815. Just within a decade of the end of the war of 1812 and what must have been a spark of hope for the likes of Dolly Madison. Thirty eight free Blacks arrived in Sierra Leone. (7Henry Noble Sherwood, “The Formation of the American Colonization Society,” The Journal of Negro History 2, no. 3 (Jul. 1917), 210; Frankie Hutton, “Economic Considerations in the American Colonization Society’s Early Effort to Emigrate Free Blacks to Liberia, 1816-36,” The Journal of Negro History 68, no. 4 (Autumn 1983), 376-377, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2717564. Paul Cuffe died soon after his return from his voyage in 1817 before he could provide any motive for wanting to make this trip to settle in West Africa.)
As a result, “The American Colonization Society was established in 1816 by a group of white elites including Reverend Robert Finley, Charles Fenton Mercer, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Bushrod Washington, Elias Caldwell, and Francis Scott Key.” (8 Bernice Finney, “The American Colonization Society,” Negro History Bulletin 12, no. 5 (Feb. 1949), 116, https://www.jstor.org/stable/44212334; Sherwood, “The Formation of the American Colonization Society,” 210; Kharem, 84.)
Perhaps the most famous recolonization effort was in 1821. This effort led to the founding of the colony of Liberia just South of Sierra Leone by a White man, Jehudi Ashmun (1794–1828). It is said that eventually upwards of 15,000 African Americans recolonized Liberia. Recognized as an Independent country in 1847 and granted full diplomatic immunity in 1862 by the United States, Liberia received support from the American Colonization Society as late as 1870 (Exhibit: The African-American Mosaic Archived February 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, 1994, Library of Congress).
I’m elated that the word “Elite” is well established in these efforts for it is often though that it was the poor White Southerner who wanted to rid himself of the Negro. Yet, it was more so the elite Yankees of the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, James Monroe, Winston Churchill, and leading Protestant denominations who field the support of colonization. “On August 14, 1862, President Lincoln invited a group of prominent Black leaders to the White House to discuss colonization. He argued that Black and white people were not capable of living together in the United States and that it was unfair to both groups to have to suffer in the other’s presence. (Fling, “Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln;” Abraham Lincoln, Address on Colonization to a Deputation of Negroes, August 14, 1862, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 5: 371-376, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/; Kharem, 75-76.).
“In 1850, Virginia set aside $30,000 annually for five years to aid and support emigration. In its Thirty-Fourth Annual Report, the society acclaimed the news as “a great Moral demonstration of the propriety and necessity of state action!” During the 1850s, the society also received several thousand dollars from the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Maryland legislatures.”
(//www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam002.html#obj5). [Act by State of Virginia making appropriations for removal of free persons of color to Liberia], 1850. American Colonization Society Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (7)
The Ol’ two Legger:
The free and former enslaved African Americans who migrated to Liberia quickly arranged a system of slavery within their borders in Liberia to mimic their own servitude in America. “The two legger was just a man,” as my mother would say. He, the free Black Liberian became the elite among a majority indigenous Africans and returned to the mud that he knew. Thus, the native indigenous Liberians became their subjects for over 130 years.
The Americo-Liberian elite’s historical faults are sizeable: denying citizenship to indigenous Liberians until 1904, denying full voting rights until well into the 20th century; one-party oligarchic rule for 133 years; lack of property rights, and forced labor (http://library.lawschool.cornell.edu/WhatWeHave/SpecialCollections/LiberianLaw/Slavery.cfm😉
The Negro Dilemma: A New Path Established
The last settlers sent to Africa with the support of the American Colonization society was in 1904. The society morphed into the Liberian Aid Society until it finally closed in 1964, just four years before I was born. This changing identity did not change its overall mission and purpose. I point this out because we will see another organization name change later in this developing story of the Negro Dilemma. It is important to take note that those who supported these efforts had prior experience on a name change, when appropriate, to further their cause. Also of importance to note about this first real attempt at the Negro Dilemma is to recognize that it was a movement among promoted and supported largely by the elite of society. Largely northerners of the highest class with resources served in leadership roles for the Society. Although it failed, this effort was real. It was a tangible way that White America and the elites of the world sought to solve one of the greatest philosophical dilemmas of their time. The “American Experiment” was at risk if the proliferation of Blacks infiltrated society and mixed among White society. By the end of the Civil war, it had become impractical and too costly to attempt to move four million freedmen who were emancipated after the war. Finally, by the end of the Civil War, Darwin’s book had been released upon the world in 1859. The underlying propaganda “Fear of the Negro” had taken hold with the help of his cousin, Francis Galton, who attempted to improve the physical and mental genetics of the human species through selected parenthood or “Good Breeding.” This false science was held up as the standard based upon Darwin’s work and his respect as a scientist globally. And with the Colonization efforts laid aside, the race to solve the Negro Dilemma took aim toward different paths to find an answer to that great question, “What to do with the Negro?” Selective breeding among the races to limit the affects of the Negro and other undesirables became the dominant topic of the day. Winston Churchill stated, ” For my part, I think it is cruel to shut up numbers of people in institutions, to them at any rate little better than prisons, for their whole lives, if by a simple surgical operation they could be permitted to live freely in the world without causing much inconvenience to others.” (Churchill September, 1910).